We are in the swing of making plans for a few weeks of American family visits, which of course include the Amsterdam walking tour and surely the canal boat trip. One can easily do these in one day.
At this time of the year we will definitely visit the Keukenhof (the national botanical gardens) and view the surrounding miles of tulip fields that color the ground. As that requires Greenwheels we will use the rest of the day and visit typical Dutch villages and towns.
But there are many more days to fill. One of those should be a kroegentocht (phonetically: kroeg-a-tog-th). Such a pub crawl is a part of Amsterdam one would be remiss not to offer even to a teetotaler.
How did cafes come to be, one might ask? Well here we go: It all emerged from a mid-nineteenth century Flemish trend (let no one ever say the Dutch do not like those Belgians they so often abuse in their jokes), of opening ones living room for strangers to visit. There the lady of the house served the in those days more and more popular drink of coffee to any visiting commoner. That little side enterprise provided the hosts a way to make an extra buck in times of economic hardship, thus creating the new burgeoning industry of cafes (French for coffee).
These in-home gathering places eventually morphed into what is now known as bruine kroegen (brown cafes).
In the heyday of those unlicensed and unregulated times, during the days the US had their civil war, one in six Flemish homes had mom serving coffee, let me correct that to say "beer" in her living room. Because by then, since water was of dubious quality, beer had also made the menu.
It is a proven human trait that alcohol wins the popularity battle over coffee and since no alcohol license was required to sell beer, and more and more regulars asked for beer, the manufacturers, often monasteries, obliged the market demands and jacked up their alcohol percentages.
Dear reader, just visualize the following: every Friday the boss handed out a little brown envelope, which Hans opened in a now brown cafe on his way home or worse the employer had socializing organized in the cafe of choice handing out the brown envelopes there. Brown cafe I said, because smoking over the years had stained the walls and ceilings of many of these competing living rooms, which were filled by now with full-sized bars and shiny beer taps, the walls covered and cabinets filled with innumerable brass or glass objects absorbing every inch of free display area; where rugs were placed on the tables instead of on the floors, which most often were of wood covered with sand to absorb the spills of unsteady drinkers who should be on their way home to hungry wife and children.
It got out of hand so government had to step in. So did government start first with a process of licensing the cafe industry? Of course not: the first law was ..... drumroll .....: "we do not allow employers to pay wages in these establishments"!!!!
Only when that did not work, did they start licensing. It took for example till 1966 for the Dutch government to state, that the minimum size of a cafe was to be 35 sq meters or 350 sq ft. The smallest exception to that is a cafe in the city of Maastricht with a size of 200 sq ft.
|Throwing peanuts on the floor, try that at home|
|Find the stamgast|
|Bar Queen Blonde Sien|
A present day count in Amsterdam of cafes is 1476 and Sandee and I created from there a short list for our guests of 43 real old unique brown cafes that had all the traits of a must do experience: like "gezelligheid" (phonetically: khuh-ZEL-ikh-hide), and with the required assorted tacky stuff hanging from ceiling and walls. They also must have a colorful owner or server and special stories associated with the establishment.
I hope you readers appreciate the fact that we will do what needs to be done for our guests even at the cost of our health.
|This is gezelligheid|
Here is what one must have taken away from coming to Amsterdam and definitely when visiting a bruine kroeg: there must be "coziness", "snugness", "sociability" and yes try this term from a really trying wordsmith: "companionableness" or for Dutch people "gezelligheid".
Sandee and I shortened the list further to 10 cafes for us to visit on a cold and drizzly afternoon, as we were certain we could drink our way through those before dinner.
To our shame we must admit, we only made 4 of those, which tells you how much "sociability" we encountered. The search for the best to show our American visitors continues.